By, Abha Rai
I believe that I am a proud Indian in every aspect. I am exhilarated about my rich cultural heritage, language and beliefs that emanate from my community. This is my second trip back to India this year and this trip makes me even more sad than the last one.
My trips to India are one of those things that I look forward to each time it is planned because this is the only way for me to meet my family and friends. The last time I came back in March; it was after about two and a half years. I was excited right from the time I got onto the plane about meeting everyone, eating good Indian food, shopping and just living it up. My journey started off well obviously and I did enjoy some really good time catching up with everyone and going to new eateries, eating endless home cooked meals and experiencing the Indian warmth and hospitality.
As my trip started to progress; my impression of India as a country gradually began changing. I mean the myth that I had in my head about everything being inexpensive around here was completely a farce. Everything right from food to clothes to movies is not the same 300-400 rupees I remember it to be. With that being said, the part that surprised me the most that everybody living here continues to shop, eat and watch movies. Everybody goes out and even manages to own some really expensive things. Me being my curious self, asked around and learnt that people here are drawing huge salaries and hence the capacity to spend is what it is.
Now this is not the part that makes me sad. The part that makes me unhappy is that while some people are earning and are becoming richer; the power differential that exists, continues to widen. In my few conversations with individuals belonging to the affluent section; I was also told that, “We are earning more, and therefore we are also paying more to our maids and the help we have.” But, my immediate thought was, who decides what is more? Who decides what is really enough?
There was not a single mall that was empty; people kept buying clothes, shoes, bags and what not. On the other hand, there were people whose houses were filled with water because of the heavy rains. On one side there are little children who stay up all night crying because water is dripping on their heads. On the other side, of course there are children whose parents can’t stop pampering them. There are people eating out of garbage cans, and there are people who couldn’t stop eating out every single night at exorbitant restaurants. There are people walking endless distances each day to get to work or to collect water for their house, and there are people who wake up each morning to decide which car they wanted to ride.
Of course, there are critics and numerous reports who state that the plight of India as a nation is improving because of numerous government schemes, external funding to NGO programs being implemented in marginalized communities. Who decides this? When people, whose plight actually needs to be improved are not really participating in the process, because they are too busy worrying about how to gather their next meal or pay for their child being admitted into a hospital. Or they are trying to save a dying father, husband, wife, daughter, son or a sister because they haven’t eaten in days or have caught a disease because they are living in unsanitary conditions.
It is reassuring and nice on paper to read about all these wonderful government schemes or about huge sum of monies being transposed to India. My eye opening realization about the actual plight was when I came back from the States this time. It hasn’t been that long since I moved out, but somehow reading snippets of the positive image that is portrayed made me believe that I am going back to a country with some glaring progress. The power differential makes me sad and the lack of realization on the part of people worsens the pain that rests within me.
I have always loved reading Karl Marx. The difference between the have’s and have not’s has existed since time immemorial. He stated that the difference will exist as long as the rich or the so called affluent continue to own the decision making and have the real power, the plight of the marginalized will never change. According to the preamble of the Indian constitution we are a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic society. I do not understand the part about being a socialist society. I disagree that there is an equal distribution of wealth and resources amongst everyone. India has been and continues to be a capitalistic society where the wealth index, happiness, progress and development is all measured by the standards laid down by the haves of the society. The existence of the marginalized community seems redundant because they are always at the receiving end. It is time for the affluent to assume responsibility and make some on ground changes in the plight of the marginalized communities. It cannot be underestimated that the affluent continue to be higher on the power differential equation because of the support and loyalty they attract from the working class. The horrific state of certain sections of population within the country not only saddens me, but it also scares me about the surmountable retaliation and rebellion we are ultimately heading towards.
Abha Rai is a social worker who works on domestic violence issues with South Asian immigrant women in the United States. She identifies herself as a women’s rights activist and a feminist. She has been passionate about social work since high school. She loves to travel, try out new food and is fitness freak. On a free day, she loves to sip coffee, write her heart out and go out for a nice long run.